Malar Setia, which was formed in 1987, celebrates its 25th anniversary today. Besides hardwork, the company has worked on building trust with its customers and principals alike.
Managing director Lim Chin Lam said that Malar Setia initially was known as Heng Ngee Trading, which was operating from an office next to where the current Manggis Mall is located.
Hj Abdul Rahman Hj Metassim, managing partner of the company, said that he joined Heng Ngee Trading three or four years later, which eventually led to the transformation of Heng Ngee Trading to Malar Setia.
"The translation was done by the Language and Literature Bureau," Hj Abdul Rahman joked.
He explained in a more serious note that since the name change, Malar Setia began to shift its focus towards halal products.
"So we tried to secure the first international brand, which was Ayamas we became the agent from 1991 onwards," said Hj Abdul Rahman.
Lim said that prior to having the distributorship rights for Ayamas, the company was more of a walk-in store, importing and distributing frozen goods.
"We had chicken wings, beef and so on which we imported through Singapore that originated from Denmark, Holland and India," said Lim, adding that at that time, the control of goods coming in weren't so strict.
After securing Ayamas in 1991, Malar Setia then started distributing Kraft dry goods products, which was the second international brand for the company in 2000.
The company then started distributing SC Johnson goods which are household goods like floor cleaners or shoe polish, followed by canned-food Ayam Brand.
"Even though these brands are under Malaysia or Singapore, they will still want to appoint someone from Brunei to look after their products," said Hj Abdul Rahman.
Later on, the principal holders of some of these brands decided to approach Malar Setia because of the company's performance and service.
From handling one container of goods when it started 25 years ago, Malar Setia now handles more than 150 containers a month.
The company grew from four employees to 134 staff now, comprising 75 per cent Bruneians.
Lim's delivery stationwagon became insufficient and Malar Setia now has 20 delivery trucks with five on rental.
Hj Abdul Rahman said the most significant brand for Malar Setia now, is its distributorship of Coca-Cola.
Lim said that hardwork is definitely an ingredient for success.
Hj Abdul Rahman said that because of the company's proven track record, more principal holders came looking for them to take care of their new brands in Brunei.
"The principal will survey the market and find out from supermarkets or other retailers to see who is doing a good job in terms of delivery, credit terms and so on. So we have to maintain some form of delivery standards, and service is very important," he said.
Malar Setia has also been keen on distributing products of Bruneian small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs).
"We welcome SME products, but first, we must ensure the standard of packaging and quality of the product. Secondly, there should not be any danger of supply shortage," said Hj Abdul Rahman.
Currently, Malar Setia has plans to export Bruneian bottled water to Malaysia, but Lim said that the main focus is still on Brunei as Malar Setia currently has 650 retailers to cater to.
"As long as they want our products, we will (distribute). When we first started, we had less than 50 retailers, as there weren't that many kedai runcits (sundry stores) yet," said Lim.
"Now, the challenge for us is that there are so many players in the market. We have to monitor (the market) properly. To get your investment back, you have to control all your overheads because the revenue is fixed by the principal. You cannot fight them on that. So, they sell the goods to you at (a fixed price), and it's up to you to control the overheads and credit terms with customers," Abdul Rahman explained.
Lim said that there weren't that many competitors in the early days, but said that having some competition is good.
"With regards to fair competition, we like that and it's also good for the market ... and to keep us on our toes," added Lim.
The reason for Malar Setia's success over the years, is due to the trust between all parties.
Lim said that business is based on trust, and there has to be transparency so that retailers trust and support them.
Hj Abdul Rahman said integrity as well is important, and because of the trust the company has built with retailers, principals will look to appoint them as distributors.
In 10 years time, Malar Setia's success will be passed to the second generation.
Hj Abdul Rahman said that the first generation had already laid the foundation and is now preparing new executives who are family members to look after the company's future.
"The younger generation is full of vigour and ideas. And they have the vision to move forward," he said.
Lim agreed, saying that because of the younger generation, the systems are upgraded, and the company's operation is shared 50/50 between the old and the young.
"Many companies in the market are already familiar with Malar Setia's next generation," said Lim.
Hj Abdul Rahman hoped that the next generation will serve as a springboard for the company to move ahead of its competitors in the market.
"We hope that they will be there in the future to organise the next celebration, which will be the company's 50th anniversary," he said.
The Brunei Times